By Tom Quinn, Contributing Writer
Northborough – For the first 10 years of their existence, the New England Ruffnecks played their home games at a variety of different fields. With their move into the recently constructed New England Baseball Complex this fall, they boast three new turf fields to call their own – and Northborough can boast about hosting one of the best college baseball development programs in New England.
Although many Middlesex residents have never been to a Ruffnecks game or even heard of the program, college scouts have, and that is paying dividends for alumni. Most former Ruffnecks go on to play baseball in college, and seven former players were drafted in the most recent Major League Baseball draft.
“Colleges recruit our kids, and the constant feedback is that they know what they’re getting,” Ruffnecks founder Steven August said. “[They] know if they take a Ruffneck kid and he comes to their school that they get a kid who runs out ground balls and plays hard and runs on the field the right way and just knows what’s going on. They don’t have to worry about it. It’s a known entity.”
Hudson resident Morgan McSweeney pitched for the Ruffnecks this year, and hopes to take his baseball career “as far as I can go.” He’s off to a good start, getting recruited heavily by colleges.
“It’s pretty awesome,” McSweeney said. “I definitely give credit to [August] and my summer coaches. I think it’s definitely a testament to their ability to develop me as a pitcher that I got all this interest. I don’t think I could have done it the way I was in the spring.”
McSweeney’s story is more unique than most – he was actually cut from the team at Saint John’s High School, only to end up starring for the Ruffnecks 16 and under team, one of five teams under the Ruffnecks banner. August is not a believer in traditional tryouts as a method of building a team, instead relying on a mix of word of mouth and referrals to get players involved in the program – a method that is clearly working, considering the Ruffnecks’ success.
“We encourage people to do all the homework they can on us,” August said. “We’re going to do homework on you.”
Although the Ruffnecks field good teams that win a lot of games, August insists that the true measure of success is in how well his players are prepared for the future, not how many games they win.
“We love to win, and if there’s a trophy at the end of the rainbow kids get excited about that, but we never set that as our beacon,” he said.
The effectiveness of the Ruffnecks program can be attributed to many people and policies in the organization, but two ways the Ruffnecks emulate a college program are instrumental in their success. The first is what August calls “the most aggressive travel schedule in the northeast.” Last season, the Ruffnecks visited Tennessee, Missouri, Georgia, Texas and Florida, among others.
“I loved the traveling part of it,” McSweeney said. “I love the team – it’s an awesome group of guys, and it was a lot of fun to spend all that time with them.”
The other main quality the Ruffnecks share with college programs is the lack of parental involvement. There are no parent coaches or scorekeepers. Players are encouraged to practice self-advocacy and handle interactions with coaches themselves instead of relying on their parents, a method McSweeney said builds maturity.
“This is really an arms’ length with parents operation,” August said. “Many, if not most, other programs and teams have some kind of parental involvement, which is why things collapse a lot of times.”
The Ruffnecks, obviously, are not interested in collapsing.
“They just develop their players,” McSweeney said. “They have a real knowledge of the game and they’re very passionate about giving their time to kids and helping them get better.”